Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Four days ago I was walking in Zamalek. It is school holidays now in Egypt, and the most vividly obvious sign of this is the absence of tooting cars blasting horns outside my house from one thirty to three as parents and drivers signal their children for pickups. Add in the cars that are just blasting because they want to get through, and the occasional one that comes the wrong way down the one way streeet I live in - and there are usually a lot of horns. I don't miss them at all. I have managed to get to a stage where I turn my music up and sometimes can be almost unaware of it. Sometimes I am annoyed - but it is not helpful, as it churns me up and does nothing to the hornblowers!

Back to the subject. I was out walking - and that is always inevitable, as without any parking on the island I walk everywhere. The aching muscles of the early days have gone now and I am undoubtedly fitter. The doctor who took my blood pressure the other day asked why I was taking tablets as my blood pressure was normal. I was tempted to say that that was probably because of the tablets, but just made a mental note to check it in Australia.

I walked past a couple of highwalled building with guard boxes. The guards wear white uniforms now, with crossed black strappings like bandoliers across the chest and black belts. I often think it looks like a design for a flag, with the black diagonal cross on white. I used to wonder why the guard groups seemed to have changed. When I arrived it seemed that all the men with guns were in black. It took a while to realise that it was actually the same men in different uniforms. Some of these guards are excellent and some are not. I have occasionally - well, maybe even often - seen them asleep in their guard boxes, sometimes looking disconcertingly dead with a white handkerchief spread carefully across the face to reduce the light.

Our guards have suits, and are very, very professional. There are not so many of them, and I now know all the names unless one is away and there is a short term replacement brought in. Ahmed is very tall and strong with a square jaw and seems more stern than the others, but his smile utterly alters his face. Bedawy is friendly and always smiling, and really lights up when you talk to him. Hamed (who I think is possibly Mohammed, or very like an earlier guard with a similar name) is balding, shorter and nice. Then there is Ayman - who actually starts with a letter we don't have in English - an ayn - which sounds like an a somewhat gargled in the back fo the throat. Every time I am tempted to laugh at a friend from another country who inadvertantly mispronounces a word to create a real howler I think of how I must sound to Arabs when I try to make this sound.

The short machine gun slung over the shoulder under the suit somewhat spoils the line of the jacket, particularly from behind, but they are nice men.

I am actually getting around to a little incident I saw! As I walked past a guard box I noticed a little girl sitting in there with a guard in white. Around the corner outside another building there were two guards, and two children. One was sitting on the bench in the box while his shoe was being firmly laced by one of the guards. My first thought was that the guard had noticed that his lace was untied as the child walked past. Then I realised that that was unlikely. This wasn't a street child. He was probably six, somewhat chubby and obviously well fed. He was overdressed - even wore a jumper and it was thirty seven degrees!

Then I realised what had happened. With economic changes in Cairo, more and more women are joining the workforce. This was Dads bringing the children to work. I found it oddly endearing that so many men with guns had small children with them.

I have been asked by the American University of Cairo to hold an exhibition of my work in September. I wish it was a bit further away so I could supply a bit more new work, but it is still nice to be planning a show. I was talking about the talks they want me to give - one floor talk, and a lecture to the full time students. I had pointed out that my move into textiles from painting had given me a way to earn something towards the family income with teaching which would not have been possible in painting, and suggested that that might be something to point out to the students.

Then the lady who manages the gallery made a comment that stopped me in my tracks, metaphorically, at least. She pointed out that the students at the American University do not ever really have to earn an income, and the problem is supplying enough activities of interest to stop them from being bored or getting into trouble. For me, this is a really mindblowing idea, that people could have enough money not to need to work, and how that affects the way the group is handled. A lot of students study art, as it provides and involving activity, which is of high status, even for women, and absorbing. Because fees are high at this private university, it naturally selects for these students.

I am in Canberra now. I arrived last night, after a very long twenty seven hours from doorway to doorway. I am weary, but not as tired as I expected to be!

One last snippet. On the plane coming into Canberra they were going through the safety checks and the usual little talk beforehand as we taxied out to takeoff. I was sitting there thinking how lovely the Aussie voice is - that light and rather natural way of speaking with the warmth of our 'tipping-up at the ends of words' accent. Then the Chief steward said, "You can undo your seat belt by lick...sorry, flicking the buckle" - and the whole plane broke up in helpless laughter. The man beside me muttered that he didn't think he had that much physical dexterity, and I said that people would have to do each other's. There were obviously similar comments going on around the plane as there were scattered bursts of laughter for some time. Even later there ws still the odd choke as someone got the giggles.

It was a lovely homecoming!


Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,

You don't need a weather report today.

Regards Helen

9:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

welcome home jenny - does this mean we wont have an interesting 'snippets' to read over a breaky cuppa for a while?
debbie, elf4

9:11 am  

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